Friday, March 7, 2014

Ash Wednesday, Lent, and a Slow Repentance

A couple of days ago, Sojourn Heights held its second Ash Wednesday service. It was a heavy, somber time of reflection and confession, capped with a reminder that, left on our own, we are sinful unto death. That is serious, which is why the cross is so glorious. But all of this has been explained before. Right now I want to address the Lenten season specifically and what I think it can mean for us as a whole. 
Lent is the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, a representation of the time in which Jesus fasted in the desert in preparation of his public ministry. The number 40 is significant in scripture. Rain fell in Noah’s generation for 40 days and 40 nights. Moses lived in the desert for 40 years before the Exodus. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years after their disobedience. Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days before being tempted by Satan. And after his resurrection, Jesus’s ministry continued for another 40 days. There are many more examples, but the point is this: 40 is a number in the Bible often associated with cleansing, repentance, and testing. 
So that’s what we view Lent as: a time of cleansing, repentance, and a testing of our faith. Forty days of it. If that seems like a long time to be sorrowful over your sin, please consider these things. Moses, the judges, and the Israelite Kings often implored the people to don sackcloth and ashes for a period of 40 days in order to repent as a nation of their sins. It was a period of mourning for how they had offended a holy God. And it was a time to earnestly seek God in repentance.
We are doing something similar when we consider our sin and lament it before God for 40 days during Lent. In a culture that places a premium on instant gratification, we often question the value of a consistent somber state for such a “long” period of time. Isn’t it depressing? Where’s the good news? Jesus wants us to be happy, right? Those are all legitimate concerns, and believe me, there is plenteous good news in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But wouldn’t the good news be that much greater after we’ve spent a considerable time unearthing and facing our deepest sins? God, in his loving kindness, shows us the depth of our sin so that he can refine us, like the gold or silver whose dross rises to the top when exposed to the fire. In the same way, let's allow the Holy Spirit to expose the sins hidden deep in our heart—once they are exposed, the Spirit will remove them faithfully because He loves us.
Here’s my challenge: let’s take Lent seriously this year. Let’s really spend 40 days asking God to uncover the depths of our sin. Let’s ask God to make us mournful over the many ways in which we grieve the Holy Spirit and damage our fellowship with him. Let’s take a humble posture before the Lord that reflects the inner reality that we are more sinful than we thought. And when Easter rolls around, we will be ever more thankful and in awe of what Christ’s resurrection accomplished.